Joey Watkins, now in his early forties, was sentenced to life plus six years in prison back on 2 July 2001 over the 2000 murder of 21-year-old Isaac Dawkins.
For the last 22 years, he has been behind bars while insisting his innocence.
On 11 January 2000, Dawkins was found suffering a gunshot wound to the head, after he was shot while driving on Highway 27, between Rome and Cedartown.
He was rushed to hospital where he later died.
A witness to the incident told police they had spotted a blue car on the road along with Dawkins’ vehicle shortly before he was killed.
Mr Watkins initally became a suspect in the murder after admitting to the Rome Police Department that he had driven past Dawkins’ vehicle on the night of the killing.
He also revealed that the pair had both dated the same woman named Brianne.
Police initially ruled him out.
Mr Watkins had an alibi, confirmed through cellphone records and witness statements, that did not place him on Highway 27 when the crime took place.
Instead, he told investigators he was driving his white pick-up truck to Cedartown, and had simply passed by Dawkins’ wrecked car on the way.
But, months later, with no progress made in the case, Dawkins’ family petitioned an officer to take over the investigation.
This officer then pursued a murder charge again Mr Watkins and he was convicted at trial.
The state of Georgia also charged Mark Free with Dawkins murder, but he was acquitted on all charges.
According to the GIP, this culminated in the “discovery of new factual information establishing that Joey Watkins’ constitutional rights were violated” at his trial.
His co-counsel Ben Goldberg filed a habeas petition in 2017 stating that he should be released due to new evidence of juror misconduct and official misconduct.
However, in 2018, the petition was dismissed by Walker County Judge Don Thompson who ruled that Mr Watkins was too late to file it.
The GIP appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court who ruled that the case had been improperly dismissed and remanded it to habeas court, which allowed Mr Watkins to present his argument that the original trial had involved both juror and official misconduct.
After a three-day long hearing, on 11 April 2022, Walker County Superior Court Judge Don Thompson overturned Mr Watkins’ conviction and granted him new trial.
Later that year on 20 December 2022, the Georgia Supreme Court vacated him conviction, allowing him to become eligible for a $75,000 bond following a successful hearing in front of Floyd County Superior Court Judge Bryan Johnson.
In a statement at the time, the GIP said: “We’re grateful that Judge Johnson granted Joey a bond so he can be home with his family and we look forward to the opportunity to prove his innocence.”
Then, finally this Thursday, District Attorney Leigh Patterson filed a ’nolle prosequi’ motion which terminated all legal proceedings against Mr Watkins – leaving him now a free man.